When it comes to making a big decision: accepting a job offer, signing a lease, or even purchasing an expensive pair of shoes, conventional wisdom tells us to sleep on it; take note of the pros and cons, and allow them to simmer overnight. But new research published in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making suggests this old adage might be ill-advised.
“When we think of the phrase ‘sleep on it,’ we think that sleep will point us to an answer,” says neuroscientist Rebecca Spencer, who worked on the study. “So our assumption was that participants would be more confident in their decisions after sleep.”
That wasn’t the case.
For the experiment, researchers asked two groups of participants to evaluate laptop cases for potential purchase. Subjects in both groups were given the pros and cons of their options, with one group receiving the information late at night, and the other receiving it early in the morning. Twelve hours later, each group was asked to choose a laptop case. The group that slept on their decision felt less confident in their choice and had a significantly smaller desire to buy the case than the group that made their decision on the same day.
“It was evident that the people who made a decision the same day felt better about their choice than those who had slept on it,” Spencer told the Harvard Business Review. “However, those who’d slept on it remembered more about the bags’ attributes. That surprised us. The fact that they knew more about the products would suggest they’d be happier with their decisions, but they weren’t.”
So what’s the takeaway for your next major ruling? If it’s something that might be an impulse, like purchasing the aforementioned pair of overpriced shoes, go ahead and sleep on it. But if it’s a life decision you’ve got to make a choice on, go with your gut.